Murray Waas is an independent investigative journalist who has reported on the special counsel’s investigation of President Trump and related controversies of the Trump administration for Vox, Foreign Policy, and The New York Times. He has worked as investigations editor, most recently, for Vice, as an investigative correspondent for Reuters, and as a staff writer for National Journal. He has also written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Boston Globe, among other publications. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the category of national reporting, a winner of John F. Kennedy School’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting (1993), a winner of the Barlett & Steele Business Investigative Reporting Prize (2010), and a fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation. (July 2018)
On March 2, former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker abruptly resigned from a new Justice Department position only two weeks into the job—after he learned that he would likely be fired if he refused to answer questions from the department’s Inspector General about his controversial tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official. As a result, investigators may never learn whether President Trump attempted to enlist Whitaker in an effort to impede a federal criminal investigation into whether the president himself conspired to violate campaign finance laws.
When Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker accepted the role of overseeing the Mueller investigation, he failed to disclose to Department of Justice ethics officers that, as head of a conservative watchdog group, he had previously cooperated with senior White House aides of President Trump in finding ways to attack the work of the special counsel. If Whitaker had revealed these discussions with the White House and his actions on Trump’s behalf, they would almost certainly have compelled his recusal from oversight of the special counsel. According to a senior Justice official, Whitaker may face investigation by the department’s inspector general over his omission.
To date, Mike Pence has played the part of deferential deputy to a president who, above all, demands loyalty from his subordinates. But it is clear from this new account that the vice president interceded forcefully with the president about firing Flynn. And it is also clear that Pence was in command of the facts about whether Flynn had lied to him, and possibly to the FBI, and was under criminal investigation. If Special Counsel Robert Mueller chooses to question the vice president, Pence could become the most important witness not yet heard from in the special counsel’s investigation of President Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
On or about February 2, 2017, a senior White House attorney, John Eisenberg, reviewed highly classified intelligence intercepts of telephone conversations between then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, which incontrovertibly demonstrated that Flynn had misled the FBI about those conversations, according to government records and two people with first-hand knowledge of the matter. The White House has previously refused to say whether or when the White House Counsel Donald McGahn, or anyone else from the White House, reviewed the intercepts to hear for themselves the evidence that Flynn had advised Kislyak that Russia should not retaliate for the US sanctions. These new disclosures, building on my July 31 reporting for the Daily, constitute the strongest evidence to date that President Trump may have obstructed justice when he allegedly asked FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn.
In an effort to persuade the American people that the president has done nothing wrong, Trump and his supporters have blamed those they identify as their political adversaries—from President Barack Obama to Jim Comey, and including entire institutions such as the FBI and CIA, and an ill-defined “Deep State.” But the most compelling evidence that the president may have obstructed justice appears to come from his own most senior and loyal aides. The greatest threat to his presidency is not from his enemies, real or perceived, but from his allies within the White House.